Counting Your Chickens

I have a bad habit, nay a handicap that has been a problem for my professional life, and blighted some of my social life as well.

When I was a wee little writer, knee high to a folio, I’d published five or six short stories and had a novel in the laborious process of being produced, and I would go to conventions and not say much (at least career pertinent.  People have tried to calculate the energy needed to keep me from SPEAKING altogether, short of near-death illness and it might approximate the energy necessary to ignite a small universe) and would try to keep a low profile, because what the heck did I have to promote yet?  And what could I think of my achievements?

I’m not very far off that now.  I prefer to state what I’ve done, mention the latest book if it warrants mention, or needs push to sell (if you haven’t bought Through Fire, I’d appreciate it if you do, because that screwed up release is hurting it) but I don’t actually brag about my attainments.  What attainments?  I’m a chick who has written almost three dozen books and who manages to make a modest living of doing what she likes best.  It’s not like I’ve saved lives, cured cancer, single handedly managed a moon shot, or even discovered a minor species of insect in a far off jungle.  I don’t even, unlike Stephanie Osborn, have no deep knowledge of important subjects, I can’t make computers do my will like my husband and Kate Paulk can.  And even my kids have more useful knowledge than I do.

I’m me, I write books, and bless you all, they allow to live.

I can’t imagine getting up on a panel podium and going “I’m the best thing sliced bread WITH butter!”

I am not.  I am metaphorically speaking just someone who tells lies for money, and not nearly as good as Clifford Simak, much less Robert A. Heinlein, whose sandals I’m not fit to untie.

To be fair, this bad habit of mine is shared by such people as Kevin J. Anderson, David Weber, or most of the rest of the Baen stable, to include Correia and Ringo.  They get up there, with mega bestsellers behind them, and what they want to talk about is their stories and this cool story they’re working on, or else something or other they saw or lived that shaped them.

Why is this a bad habit?  Well, early on in my career I saw people with one or two stories published — and sometimes with none — who could get on a panel and project “I am the very model of a successful writer.”  I once had a friend of mine, with two published books and a stalled career, do this to me when I had ten books out and two series going.  Somehow in talking, at a party, she projected — likely intentionally, but possibly not — that she was the established writer and I was the has been.

This talent has numerous advantages.  People tend to treat you as you present yourself.  One of the reliable ways to get publicity backing out of ny publishing is to act as though you’re already a success.

I can’t do that.

I wish I were able to, because I suspect there is more success down that path.

On the other hand there are risks too.

You knew I was working up to tell this story.  When I arrived here was two days after Portugal, a creditable underdog, won the European soccer championship.  Which was fine, as I understand the streets were clogged with people celebrating and one couldn’t go anywhere.

Notably, I’ve seen more Portuguese flags everywhere than I’ve seen in my whole time growing up here.  This seems to have revived the national pride which was low even prior to EU.

It was only 24 after my arrival that my dad told me the story of the epic soccer match which took place in Portugal.

Apparently, the French team arrived in specially painted buses, bearing the French flag and underneath the words Champions of Europe.

They were so sure of their victory they had their buses painted both for the victorious turn about Paris afterwards, and for the trip out.

That would have been fine had they won.  As it happens, they lost.  Which means their braggadocio turned to bitter tears after the game, even while on the field.

Now, mind you, arriving with the boast on the side of the bus probably did intimidate the local team and make it more likely they would lose.  Which would be fine, if the French had been able to carry it through.

So, this embarrassing issue of my not being able to brag might cost me, but at least I’ll never know the humiliation of bragging with nothing to back it.

Also there is a lot to say for the fact that we’ve become a culture of bragging and appearance and not actual accomplishments.  And I prefer accomplishments.

But I still wish that institutions — and publishers — in general could distinguish between ability to brag and ability to do.

Yet all in all, it will save me from bragging of what I can’t deliver.

It could be worse.


166 thoughts on “Counting Your Chickens

  1. Was a time when people knew the meaning of hubris — now they seem to think it a skin condition correctable with the right salve.

    1. “Hubris”? Isn’t that the mediterranean dip made from ground-up chickpeas, garlic, etc.? 🙂

        1. Actually, that’s a pretty good name for the telescope, seeing as it needed optical corrective surgery to be able to see anything after it was launched. 😉

          1. well, to see as good as it was supposed to. If was still better than most terrestrial scopes.

        2. And here I thought it’s what happens when it comes time for young Hubert’s circumcision.

    1. Against the French? I’m fairly sure I have AT LEAST some French blood, which since I come from a country settled by French Crusaders would be natural. I realize reality is not a stop to such accusations, but still…

      1. Come now, we all know that the worst racists are those expressing self-hatred. It is a variation of the uncanny valley effect.

          1. There was a go round around here that Kate weighed in on, IIRC. Essentially driven by cultural differences, there was this Australian woman who felt that Americans, especially talking about American exceptionalism, were tremendously gauche.

            There was at least one early American subculture where bragging that honestly reflects the exceptional things one has done was normal. Which makes it racist to take offense.

            On the other hand, making duck noises at people who can’t deliver is also a cultural imperative. Promotion of ‘self esteem’ culture is the imperialist suppression of my cultural heritage.

            1. Bragging is an American tradition of long standing, and reckoned a significant social skill, as demonstrated by Mississippi riverboatman Mike Fink:

              “Im a Salt River Roarer! Im a ring-tailed squealer! I’m a reg’lar screamer from the ol’ Massassip’! WHOOP! I’m the very infant that refused his milk before its eyes were open, and called out for a bottle of old Rye! I love the women an’ I’m chockful o’ fight! I’m half wild horse and half cockeyed-alligator[6] and the rest o’ me is crooked snags an’ red hot snappin’ turtle. I can hit like fourth-proof lightnin’ an’ every lick I make in the woods lets in an acre o’ sunshine. I can out-run, out-jump, out-shoot, out-brag, out-drink, an’ out fight, rough-an’-tumble, no holts barred, ary man on both sides the river from Pittsburg to New Orleans an’ back again to St. Louiee. Come on, you flatters, you bargers, you milk-white mechanics, an’ see how tough I am to chaw! I ain’t had a fight for two days an’ I’m spilein’ for exercise. Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

              but taking such claims seriously marked one as a greenhorn.

              A more accurate marker of American views could be found in the adages:

              A mill won’t grind with water that has passed.


              Brag is a good dog, while he will hold out: but at last he may chance to meet his match.

              1. Pretty good, although I tend to sing this George Thoroughgood tune in the shower (I haven’t tried this before so bear with me):

                (I actually had a comment hours ago, but the blue button on my gadget’s virtual key apparently hits the “Cancel Reply” button here.)

                1. Such overstatement is an American tradition,

                  You’ve all on you, heered of Mike Fink, the celebrated, an self-created, an never to be mated, Mississippi roarer, snag-lifter, an flatboat skuller. Well, I knowed the critter all round, an upside down; he war purty fair amongst squaws, cat-fish, an big niggers, but when it come to walkin into wild cats, bars, or alligators, he couldn’t hold a taller candle to my young son, Hardstone Crockett. I’ll never forget the time he tried to scare my wife Mrs. Davy Crockett. You see, the critter had tried all sorts of ways to scare her, but he had no more effect on her than droppen feathers on a barn floor; so he at last bet me a dozen wild cats that he would appear to her, an scare her teeth loose, an her toe nails out of joint; so the varmint one night arter a big freshet took an crept into an old alligators skin, an met Mrs. Crockett jist as she was taken an evening’s walk. He spread open the mouth of the critter, an made sich a holler howl that he nearly scared himself out of the skin, but Mrs. Crockett didn’t care any more for that, nor the alligator skin than she would for a snuff of lightnin, but when Mike got a leetle too close, and put out his paws with the idea of an embrace, then I tell you what, her indignation rose a little bit higher than a Mississippi flood, an she throwed a flash of eye-lightnen upon him that made it clear daylight for half an hour, but Mike thinkin of the bet an his fame for courage, still wagged his tail an walked out, when Mrs. Crocket out with a little teeth pick, and with a single swing of it sent the hull head and neck flyin fifty feet off, the blade iist shavin the top of Mike’s head, and then seeing what it war, she trowed down her teeth pick, rolled up her sleeves, an battered poor Fink so that he fainted away in his alligator skin, an he war so all scaren mad, when he come too, that he swore he had been chawed up, and swallered by an alligator.

                  otherwise represented in such Tall Tales as Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, Pecos Bill, Windwagon Smith, Joe Magarac and Alfred Bulltop Stormalong.

                  OTOH, I belong to that portion of Americans who disdain braggadocio, realizing that to those of discernment my superior qualities are readily apparent, and to those lacking such discernment no amount of instruction will solve their deficiencies.

      2. I have a little French blood too. But it is so expensive that I only drink it on special occasions.

        1. Anyone writing vampire fiction is free to steal that, btw. Though obviously if you’ve set your story in France, cough, then it isn’t as funny.

      3. ” I’m fairly sure I have AT LEAST some French blood,”

        And Hitler was part Jew…

        So you really are a closet Nazi!

  2. Hrm, not sure I should use this particular Texan line, but nobody can truthfully accuse you of being (metaphorically) “All hat, no cattle.”

  3. I was looking at the ‘Zon the other day and realized, to my surprise, “Holy cats, I have [number] of novels published!” But it doesn’t feel like I’m a great successful writer (I’m not), it just feels like I need to finish what I’m working on and get on to the next one, and take out the cat box, and revise other-work stuff, and move sharp or fragile things out of Red 2.0’s line of sight before she arrives tomorrow.

    “I’ve only got [number] of books out.” Although I think the “oh, you’re just indie” encounter last weekend is part of it. And back to re-editing something.

    1. Holy cats

      Oy, do not give a couple of your characters ideas like that. They’ll start demanding stories as sacrifice (of time & effort) or sommat.

    2. Only two appropriate responses to “just indie.”
      Oh, well show me your back shelf and sales numbers, cupcake.
      Or just shoot the jealous sumbitch.

      1. When you sell to a publisher you only have to sell the book once; after that it is the publisher making the sales (and taking the profits.)

        When you sell a book the Indie route you have to sell it to each and every single reader.

        Alternately, keep in mind the adage: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

        At the end of days, all die no matter their book sales. Few now can tell you anything about Edna Ferber, Harold Robbins or countless other “best-sellers” of prior decades.

        1. This is key. An author writes, it’s what they do.
          When you go indie you wear a totally different plethora of hats. You become a one person publishing company. You take on all the responsibilities of publisher from final edit, to cover art, cover layout, formatting, distribution, and promotion. Now each of those tasks can be hired out, but that in itself adds publication manager to the list of tasks.

    3. Who said that to you, Alma? Did you say, “oh, how many books have you published at all?”

      1. No, because it was someone that a professional associate instructed to look for me (someone who worked for a Large Imprint and still has connections [I don’t want to go into more detail]), and the other person is affiliated with a major Con that favors Big 5 or small press writers (“traditionally published.”) There were other people around and I didn’t want to make a scene or cause blow-back for my professional associate, so I just said something diplomatic and got out of the way. Neither person meant to be mean, they are just very much tradpub oriented. It took me by surprise, and well, no one likes being reminded that they are a small-ish fish in a large pond. 🙂 No harm, no foul.

        1. Ah, so they were just clueless, not evil. 😀 I’m sure the buggy-whip manufacturers didn’t understand that those folks who didn’t need their product anymore were the wave of the future, either.

          1. [WCFields mode] Ahhhhh yessss, I well remember when Blockbuster and Borders ruled their respective fieldsssss. [/WCFields mode]

            1. Good old Borders. I used to use their web ordering and pick things up at the store, and they changed the site so you needed an Amazon account. The only reason I ever got an Amazon account was because Borders forced me to do so, and then they blame Amazon for their downfall.
              Yes, I did point and laugh.

    4. You are the author of the Cat and Dragon series, one of my favorite reads! I love Rada and all her friends. I’ve read the latest one and SPOILERS: I can’t wait to read to see how Rachel and Joschka/ Rada and Yori get together. They’ve come through the darkness and deserve some light and happiness.

      1. Minor hint: “Recuerdos del la Alhambra” and the second movement of “Concierto de Aranjuez”. And a garden in moonlight.

  4. I’ve got a co-worker at McDonald’s who I can’t stand working with directly (indirectly is fine) because if you try to tell her how to do something, you end up in a yelling match. The other day, she was leaning on the freezer, while the other two of us in the back were running around crazily doing things. I think the manager said something to her, and she said, she’s the hardest working person there, no one else does anything.

    Now, there are *many* people in the store who work harder than I do. She’s not one of them.

    I think she gets away with a lot because she’s nearly deaf.

    1. In every jon you evet have that involves working with other people, every day youmcome to work you will be working with at least one jackass.

      And if you are very lucky, it won’t be you.

      1. Anyone care to join me in the bunker? I’ve got rum and chocolate-chip cookies…

        1. You had me at chocolate! I’ll bring brandy, and calvados-sprinkled plum upside-down cake, with blue bell vanilla ice cream!

        2. Rum and chocolate chip cookies? Sounds interesting; peanut butter and chocolate chip were a favorite of mine ’til I developed a peanut allergy,

        3. Ooooo rum and chocolate chip cookies! Captain Morgan’s goes very well with heath bar cookies as well.

        4. I don’t drink (well, not alcoholic beverages), but if you throw in some root beer and some cream soda, I’m in!

          Is it Ok if I bring my family?

    1. I know that Sarah said that things tend to get interesting when she and her family travel. I was skeptical. And now I admit I was wrong. Completely and totally wrong. The point has been made.

      Have we had sufficient “interesting” for one trip to Europe now? Please?

      1. About to mention that…

        Although I’ve looked at a couple of Sarah’s claims. Yes, she was overseas, and something blew up, burned, melted into the ground.

        However – just coincidentally, our Secretary of State was overseas at the same time, each of the ones I looked at.

        Now, which one do you think we should take the passport away from?

        1. Take the passport away from? Oh, for SecState, you DO mean while she’s still overseas, right?

          Sarah we’re definitely letting back in!

  5. Harlan Ellison started going to cons and presenting himself as “the best thing since sliced bread! and BUTTER! and Jam!” before he had actually sold anything. For a long time, that seems to have been the way to go.

    1. I don’t know as I’ve ever liked sliced bread, butter and jam. Jam is over-sweet and loaded with carbs, spread butter is largely tasteless on bread, mostly adding useless calories.

      I prefer bread fresh from the oven, hand-torn into bite-sized chunks and dipped in olive oil and herbs.

      1. That’s because the Puppies are grinding out hackwork for the peons of the reading public, while the Kickers are creating Art.

        1. The point of victory between the Kickers and the Puppies is at “AND THEN YOU GET PAID.”

          Upthread someone mentioned a tradpub author makes one sale for all his books, while an indie has to sell the same book over and other. But while the tradpub’s single sale is (theoretically) much larger, it has a built-in expiration date. A few months, maybe a year, and then it’s out of print. While the Puppies can ride the long tail long after the tradpub book ceases to make any money.

          Theoetically a tradpub could get his rights back and climb on the long tail too. “Let’s see how that works out for you.”

          1. So-called because were it not “Important And Relevant” people wouldn’t even read it at gunpoint, even if trapped in the privy with the green apple nasties on a night when temperatures are running -50 and nothing else to read.

            1. butbut… Important and Relevant! They don’t care if the rubes don’t want to read it, as long as the Important and Relevant people do!

              1. The Important and Relevant people don’t want to read it, either — they just want to be seen as having read it.

                  1. When McCollough’s biography of Harry S Truman came out, there were jokes about all the people trying to be seen reading it when they went to the beach or were on the DC metro. Ditto that French guy’s economics book that was “The Book” a few years ago.

                    1. My understanding is that when Washingtonians read a history they do it by looking up names in the index then flipping to the indicated page(s).

          2. Which is usually dated the moment it hits the store shelves. While timeless themes endure.

  6. Portagee, you don’t need to brag. That’s our job. And Toni’s, but she gets paid to do that, we just do it because we love you.
    You are a fair to middlin writer of entertaining SF&F, a hack in the same regard that RAH was. Never forget, he considered the competition to one of his paperback reprints to be an after work beer, and was delighted that he so often won the choice.
    What you also do is speak truth to power in the truest meaning of that far too often mis used and mis understood phrase. One small voice doing exactly what it says at the top of this blog, taking over the world and leaving it ruthlessly alone.
    Now finish your visit with the folks. I’m sure it is a never ending series of delights. Another week, then get your hiney back here and back to work. You owe me at least two manuscripts. Releasing Darkship Revenge will put paid to the entire Through Fire kerfuffle, and there had better be a new musk/vamp nearly ready for me to rip into, or we shall have words.

    1. I’m trying to write, but the Portuguese solution to “damn hot” is to close all blinds, and I don’t do well with dark. I’ve been sleeping A LOT.
      OTOH I’m hanging out with dad. He’s reading, I’m writing, and that’s fine.

      1. There’s humility and then there’s “denying what you have accomplished”.

        You may not be at RAH’s level of accomplishments (who is) but you have accomplishments to your record.

        You’ve made enough money that your income (apparently) is a good part of your family’s income.

        You’ve raised two boys to adulthood.

        Of course, Dan thinks you’re worth something. 😉

      2. I’m going to write this off as post Libertycon letdown.

        You are multibly published by multiple major publishers, with a huge history of short stories published in every fricking SF/F mag I’ve ever heard of. Branching out into Indie because (1) it looks like a good business decision and (2) you fear nothing.

        So stop with the insecurity attack, have fun with the family . . . or at least don’t kill any of them.

        And if you keep this up past your settling into your new home, we’ll have to come kick your derriere and take over your kitchen and feed you nothing but meat and veggies until you recover.

        Now go have fun.

          1. It’ll be fine once y’all admit that beans and hotdogs can be served for every meal.

            1. Well, yes in fact they can be, for about two days. Shortly thereafter the EPA declared the premises a toxic dump and forces evacuation.

              1. EPA are pussies. There is nothing unfit for habitation about where I live. The rock wool? insulation dust probably doesn’t have any effect on my health.

              2. Feed folk enough beans and there’ll be no cause to force evacuation, although I am sure somebody will have a toxic dump.

          2. Should we raffle off chances to cook or sell pay-per-view for the battle royale? Which would bring in more money?

        1. I made The Best Damn Spaghetti Sauce In The World yesterday, and canned ample quantities. Can we at least feed her some of that?

          (after Darkship Renegades is published?)

  7. Historical (yipes–my lifetime) example: A notable player for the Houston Rockets stated that the team with the most dunks would win. Sure enough they did and afterward the quote was made into a t-shirt with the graphic NC State 2 and below that Houston 1.

    King Ahab (not noted for his wisdom) said that bragging when you were putting your on your armor did not mean as much as bragging when taking it off.

    1. Of course, in Anglo-Saxon literature, we know it was the custom of the knights to brag over the meal in the king’s hall. This way, when they were on the battlefield, they had the encouragement to fight hard to avoid looking like a miles gloriosus

      1. In a largely illiterate culture, it kept your accomplishments from being forgotten.

        It wasn’t quite the “see how great I am!” thing it is in modern American culture. And it (mostly) lacked the overtones of falsehood or exaggeration it carries now.

        1. Yes, but nuance means I can’t call foreigners racist for having different ways.

      1. 🙂 I really liked that song when it came out, and it didn’t get nearly enough radio time.

  8. Gee, I don’t know. I’ve lived the last 7.5 years with the “Lightworker” as President. A man so brilliant that no one is allowed to see his college transcripts. Who has healed the earth and lowered the seas. The French are culturally indoctrinated to arrogance. We expect if from them and Harlan Ellison.
    Imagine yourself as an author with one short story published in 2007 and then awarded a Hugo for a novel, with the singular claim to fame that all people are ‘her’. Kind of hard to get any balance and sensibility in an environment like that. At least Ellison wrote some Star Trek scripts.
    When I want to ‘broaden my mind’, I always choose non-fiction, usually Math or Physics (Although Derbyshire’s “Prime Obsession” or “Unkn()wn Quantity” are fascinating history books that I have enjoyed.)

    1. Actually, Ellison wrote one, and spent the next 50 years moaning about how it was changed.

        1. The Doomsday Machine was Spinrad, who also wrote a pretty good first season episode of Land of the Lost.

      1. Also griping (understandably, I think) about the changes the producers made to A Boy and His Dog.

  9. We appreciate you and your work. And that’s what’s important.
    Seriously, enjoy your time with family!

  10. Writing a few interesting books (and come on, give yourself credit for more than “a few,” ) IS worth celebrating.

    Try and count up the number of people whose entire oeuvre is excruciatingly boring. Now add those who wrote a moderately entertaining first novel but in the process used up all their good ideas and have never been able to do it again. Add in the wannabes who have been revising the first chapter of their Great American Novel since the Reagan administration. Add the even larger number who have never defiled the first blank sheet of paper with a single sentence, but who are sure that some day they’ll write a novel that will receive universal acclaim.

    You may be a little lower than the angels, but you’re still standing atop an impressively large heap. Go forth and celebrate your achievements!

    1. > used up all their good ideas

      Sadly, a *lot* of authors run into that wall.

      I don’t necessarily mind that, but it seems like their writing skills decline along with their imaginations.
      I guess they just stared and the typewriter or word processor and went through the motions.

      Nobody bats a home run every time, but you still have to *try.*

      1. Even the best get old. But, it may be that I’m simply getting more depressed, and seeing decline where there is none.

  11. I try very hard to not be “that writer” on panels who interjects her book into every topic on the flimsiest of pretexts, often without lube. I mention my books when I introduce myself, and only discuss them further when asked. Outside panels I usually do the same–only if asked. My one exception is when people are curious about indie or are thinking of doing it themselves. I will go into detail about numbers sold, general income derived,. etc. to be encouraging. I generally assume most people *haven’t* heard of me. (Which just makes the odd fan encounter that much more pleasant. Like the first day at a new job, someone walked by, did a double-take at my nameplate, and asked hesitantly…”do you write science fiction?” yep, a solid fan 😀 One of TWO at that small office!)

    1. “I wrote a coming-of-age story about a young girl and how she was mistreated by her peers.”

      [disinterested] “What was it called?”


  12. Well, it’s only one reader – but you are on my list of “buy whenever money permits.” That’s a very short list, mind you.

    There are so many different breads, and butters to put on them, I decided to not try that ranking method…

      1. So true. Money I can’t solve right now, but time… I’ve semi-committed to getting one review done a week, allowing me to “justify” the time for the reading as “work.” With the money issue, they’re going to be the earlier works of everyone – but every little bit will help.

        Cedar’s Vulcan’s Kittens is the first, probably tomorrow; I’ll finish the re-read after the housekeeping is done on the second release today.

      2. Had we but world enough and time
        This slowness lady were no crime
        We could sit back and think the ways
        Adventures come in future days
        Thou in the sunny Portugese clime
        Would plothooks find
        I by the tubes of WordPress would complain…

  13. I can’t imagine getting up on a panel podium and going “I’m the best thing sliced bread WITH butter!”

    Well, okay…but how about “the best thing since bottled Coke!” — ?

    1. That’s OK. It’s the ones who claim to be the best thing since coffee or chocolate that make me want to toss peanut shells at them.

      1. As long as it’s just the best thing SINCE coffee or chocolate, acknowledging that nothing is better than those two wonderful “c” items, I can deal with it.

        1. I’d just mention I hate coffee. So being better’n that is either an exceedingly low bar, or if they feel they’re coffee squared, ensures I will detest it all the more.

    1. oh it doesn’t go to hell where I am — that’s my mom when she travels. — it JUST goes to hell. To those who’ve read Good Omens, mom’s name is Carmen.

  14. Any sufficiently advanced bullshitting is indistinguishable from competence.

    1. That flaming rubble was what I wanted. You’ll see the advantages of it real soon now. The guy with the fire extinguisher is a bigot.

    1. I have written and published ONE book.This time last year the number was ZERO.

      Many people never get that far. It is the first rung, so I can claim that. That’s about it. “Just the facts, ma’am.”

      1. Exactly. I once had a new prof glare at me for having more publications on my CV as a grad student than he did as a prof. I’d been lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and had the work ethic of a border collie. And a prof who pushed me to submit a large number of articles while the work was still fresh. So yes, I had publications. As you say, the first rung.

        1. I have some publications around somewhere from back in my days as a physicist. I don’t count those much any more. At the time, I think I was supposed to write more. On my own time, of course.

          Typical: I should have been focusing all my energy on work, at the same time I was having children. I don’t know if that contributed to me being sick, but it was extremely stressful as the spouse was doing the same thing. Only I seemed to be the mommy.

          My body couldn’t do it. Many people DID manage. The other two women physicists stopped after ‘the kid.’ Maybe that helped.

  15. About a year ago I was at a science fiction convention and they had a feature called “Bookseller’s Row”. The hallway directly outside the dealer’s room had tables set up on both sides for indie authors.

    I would guess that about half of them had a single book on their tables, few had more than three. Over the course of the weekend I saw the bright eager light of hope fade from their eyes and a kind of “Glengarry Glen Ross” desperation replace it. By Sunday a third of the tables were empty–the authors couldn’t face coming back.

    Being a self-published author isn’t a writing job that involves some sales, it’s a sales job that involves some writing. What’s more, it’s straight commission with no benefits and you have to pay all of the costs out of pocket. Every call is a cold call–even in a convention where the membership is predisposed to your product–and your competition is the people that you grew up reading.

    At that convention I was part of a panel discussion on publishing alternatives for the 21st Century. I had just wrapped up my four book series, one of the other panelists had a total of seven novels, four in one on-going series, three in another (he was the only one of us who was making a living from writing alone.) The other three panelists had one novel each.

    The panel was fairly well attended and I assume that they were there because they wanted to know how to break into print and quit their day jobs, and I think that they were sobered by what we had to say–that the writing is the least important part of the process of making a living as being a writer. A moderately readable product is important, and if it’s better than that it’ll give you an edge, but a good salesman with a mediocre product line is going to do much better than a poor salesman with an outstanding product.

    So it’s the shameless and tireless self-promoters who are going to do well, the folks who can stand up and say “I’m the worlds greatest science fiction writer” with a straight face.

    At least, that’s been my experience.

    1. Oh yes on salesmanship. James Young writes great stories (not for the kiddos, though), and markets the heck out of them, and has patches, cover art images, an art calendar and other stuff for his fans. And coffee mugs. So yes, he writes, but then he sells to anyone who wanders close enough to his gravity well. That’s the hard part.

      1. Young seems to be just a good guy too . . . met him at LibertyCon. Yeah, I bought three of his books.

        One problem is that marketing is really, really difficult–psychologically–for People of Oddness who are also ridiculously introverted. (Raises hand sheepishly.)

        That’s why God invented alcohol.

        1. Yup. He’s good people.

          And some of us have to be careful about people seeing us selling in the local area and going, “Hey, waitaminnut, you’re not [pen name], you’re really [other name], the preacher’s wife!” (She writes horror.) Which makes it a tad easier for introverts to justify not marketing the heck out of our stuff.

          1. I was waiting to enter a panel room at a con while a crowd was exiting, and a friend passed by, so I said “Hello, [real name].” She whispered back, “Shhh, I’m attending as [pen name].” (Luckily, I don’t think anybody overheard.)

  16. Since you asked nicely, I went ahead and bought the entire Darkship series on Baen Ebooks. I’ve wanted to do that for awhile but never quite pulled the trigger.

  17. I have been trying to get better at self promoting, I know that I suck at it, and I know that when I try, I’m often not doing well at it either.
    I know several people, personally, who are always going on about how well they are doing, how great they are, and how big their sales are. The one time I was on a panel with them, I started to dodge questions, or answer them in a really low voice, because I was embarrassed. Because I was doing a lot better than they were.
    I’d heard for so long what great writers they were, and how they were so successful, that when I started to hear actual numbers, and people were thinking ‘that’s great!’, I didn’t want to embarrass them in front of so many people.
    Maybe I should have just been proud and spoke up, but I didn’t want to be bragging. Now I look back and wonder if maybe I should have just spoke up and let the chips fall where they may. Funny thing though, the other authors there figured out how I was doing compared to them. They didn’t invite me back next year.

    It’s hard in this business to discuss with people how you’re doing, because there are people who will always be upset that you’re doing better than they are. The thing is, no matter how good you do, there will -always- be someone doing better than you are. Me, I see no reason to be jealous of the people doing better, I’d rather emulate than complain. I’d also rather do what I can to help others, because I remember the times I needed help and couldn’t get it, and how much that sucked, and how priceless the few times I did get help were to me.

    1. The first thing to keep in mind is that you are NOT, repeat: K-N-O-T, promoting yourself. What you are promoting is a book (or books) you have written. These are very different things and you MUST take care to not confuse them in the minds of BOOK Buyers.

      Everything you do and say in such conversations needs to be focused on the benefit to the reader of buying and reading your books.

      Make it easy for buyers to buy your books — while an amazingly useful thing to do, many Indie writers often neglect this fundamental task. Look at how other booksellers market their wares and adapt those ploys. Baen routinely uses what would otherwise be blank pages at the backs of their books to tell readers (presumably those who’ve gotten to those pages at the back of the book are readers) of other books Baen sells which are very much like the one the reader has just finished!!!!!!!

      Those lists of “Other Books Written By This Author” at the front of a book are similarly there to help sale those other books. Make them reader/buyer friendly by arranging them in series and in series order! Ever look at a book and wonder whether it is the first, second, twelfth book in a series? DON’T make readers guess! Heck, put your web site URL at the bottom of the list, so fans of the present book can readily buy more.

      When possible, construct your series with multiple entry points so potential readers don’t say, “This looks interesting, I must remember to look for the first in this series.” For that matter, whenever possible with an established series, give away the first book, either as a free sample, a “Buy one, get one free” package or as door prizes at cons — you can deduct their cost as promotional expenses, assuming you make enough sales to owe taxes.

      BTW – important tip: keep careful track of ALL related expenses, from printer toner and paper to travel to cons (including meals and drinks, cab fare and tips) to printing costs to promotional giveaways. If/When you eventually make enough money from your writing to pay taxes on the earnings all those Net Operating Losses can be rolled forward to shield present income. See your local Accounting Professional (Tax) for details. (Accountant fees are also deductible as a cost of producing and selling your books.)

      Remember: you are in the business of selling BOOKS. If you thought your story was worth the effort to waste all the time you put into producing it, muster up some enthusiasm for putting it into the hands of readers.

      Look around you — fans are so desperate for something entertaining to read that they’re reading Hugo-nominated novels, fer gawd’s sake!

      1. REMEMBER: Your book doesn’t have to be the greatest thing ever written, it merely needs to be more entertaining than the available alternatives. You’re not selling ice-cubes to Inuits nor coal to Newcastle — you’re selling reading matter to people who will read the labels on toilet bleach tablets.

        Promotional tip: do not be afraid to put a high “sticker price” on your books, especially if you are selling them personally (Tell ya what I’m gonna do, because I like you, you seem like a nice fan and I want to do you a favor, I’m willing to sell you the first three books in this series, all for the price of the first book!) or if you’re selling them through venues which allow you to offer deep discounts, especially when buying a “package” of two or more books.

    2. Keep in mind that it isn’t anybody’s concern how your sales are, and other peoples’ sales are no concern of yours.

      As the joke goes:

      Mr. Cohen falls and is laying in the road. A lady gets a pillow from her car and lays it under his head until the ambulance arrives.

      “Are you comfortable?” she asks.

      “Ah vell,” he says “I make a living.”

      There’s plenty of market for everybody, enough s all can be comfortable if they keep their focus on their own business.

  18. I didn’t realize there was a problem with Through FIre (I’m one of the ones who’s been pestering you for another Darkship novel for a while since I don’t enjoy romances). I put myself on the list for the paperback a while ago and then just forgot about it, figuring Amazon would let me know. Today I went and bought the Kindle version (got a new tablet that I can read Kindle books on) just to make you feel better.

    Keep writing Darkship books and I don’t think anyone will ever be able to say you have no accomplishments. One day there will be a leatherbound special edition with commentary (all on Kindle, of course) and people will teach college courses. Ok, maybe not, but you are doing good. Keep it up.

      1. noun
        1. a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love

        2. a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.

        The heck you don’t.

        Frankly, given the depth of description contained in most novels marketed as romances, there’s neither mystery, excitement nor love.

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